Review: Nigel Kennedy, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

The evening began inauspiciously. After 20 minutes staring at an empty stage, the capacity audience became restless.

With no explanation for the delay, a trickle of people began to leave. Then the slow hand-clapping started.

Finally, Kennedy and his recently-founded Orchestra of Life emerged. His jokey apology for lateness was feeble.

Next, he blathered on about football; then ritually kissed the female front desk violinists. Still not a note. A man in the gallery shouted: “I’ve paid £40 for this – get on with it!”

To which Kennedy quipped: “If you’d paid £80 I’d have been on time.” 

Nice one, Nige – how to treat paying customers with contempt.

When Kennedy played he was brilliant. An hour of Vivaldi concertos was segued almost seamlessly. Works that can sound prim or pedestrian sprang to life when played with such vitality and freedom of spirit.

Slow movements were rapt and finales infectiously exciting. A double concerto played by Kennedy and the orchestra’s leader Lizzie Ball soared off into a scintillating jazzy improvisation that became the evening’s highlight.

The Four Seasons followed, more lithe and imaginative than 20 years ago, and was applauded vociferously by those who had slow hand-clapped two hours before.